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Archive for May, 2015

Australia’s Least Wanted Drivers (In Car Parks, Anyway)

bad-parking-7132531The following are the drivers we least want to see in carparks in our local shopping malls or similar. Give them all a great big raspberry!

#1 Able-Bodied Amanda

Amanda can be found parking in the disabled park, even though there is nothing the matter with her. She’s “only going in for a minute and nobody uses the disabled car park anyway”. Nobody, that is, except at least half a dozen people in any typical urban neighbourhood, who all fume at Amanda as she makes them take their wheelchairs from the other side of the carpark. One day, they will be rolling past as she gets back into her car and she will wish she could bury herself in a large hole.

A close relative of Able-Bodied Amanda is Childless Charlotte, who takes up the parents-of-small-children parks in a similar fashion.

Do not confuse Able-Bodied Amanda with the drivers who have disabilities that are less than visible and legitimately park in the disabled carpark.

#2 Jovial Joe

Jovial Joe is more likely to be found in the car parks of supermarkets in small towns.  Joe knows everybody and loves to stop for a good old yarn. This sees him stopping his Toyota Hilux  ute in the middle of the non-parking bits of the carpark (you can’t really call them roads but you know what I mean) and rolling down the window to have a long chat to Garrulous Gary. Alternatively, he will stand with the door of his ute open, taking up the car park beside him as well as the one his ute’s in while Chatty Charlie beside him does the same, thus taking up yet another car park. Small-town carparks are not huge.

Just be thankful you’re not waiting for Jovial Joe to move his ute away from the bowser at the petrol station while he’s in talking to the attendant.

#3 SUV Sarah

SUV Sarah is in the running for Super Mum Of The Year and wants everyone to know it. She drives a softroader SUV with all the bells and whistles (e.g. Audi Q7) to keep the kiddies safe.  If she could put all those front and rear parking sensors to better use, her ownership of this large vehicle would not be a problem.  As it is, she always seems to take up three spaces, or even five when the doors of the SUV are thrown open.

You could blame the designers of the carparks – some of them do seem to have been thinking of teeny tiny classic Minis or Fiat 500s  when painting the lines designating the parking spaces.

#4 Squealing Simon

Squealing Simon is more of an urban nuisance and is often found on the upper floors of car parking buildings.  Squealing Simon has seen too many movies involving shoot-outs or car chase scenes set in car parking buildings and is trying to emulate them.  The end result is that you come up the ramp trying to find a park where you’re not likely to be collected by SUV Sarah, Wonky Wilma or Learner Larry (or if you are Wonky Wilma or Learner Larry trying to minimise your nuisance value), you will be suddenly confronted by screeching tyres and a revving engine attached to something that narrowly misses him.

#5 Learner Larry

Learner Larry is forgivable but still a nuisance.  Learner Larry has the L-plates carefully in place and is learning how to park a car properly.  Larry is very, very new at this and is terrified that he is going to hit the fancy new Mercedes behind him, so he goes v-e-e-e-r-y s-l-o-o-o-o-w-l-y.  The long line of other drivers waiting for him to finish his manoeuvre only adds to his nerves and makes him take it even more slowly.  Try not to honk your horn at him.

However irritating he is, Learner Larry is preferable to the closely related P-Plate Peter, who thinks he knows it all, forgets he’s not in Mum’s vehicle with all the sensors and cameras, and goes careening backwards into your bumper.

#6 Wonky Wilma

Wonky Wilma is not spatially gifted.  She never gets the angle exactly right for getting into an angle park (don’t ask about what her parallel parking is like).  At least seven times out of ten, she will not be in the right place in the parking space. She will be right up close to the white line, making it impossible for you to open your door without taking her paint off or she will be straddling the white line and hoping nobody else comes along. Sometimes, she’s in the space on a slight diagonal rather than straight, but at least that’s not going to be a problem for others in the car park… until it’s time for her to back out.

#7 Canine Carrie

Canine Carrie loves dogs. She owns several of them and takes them with her wherever she goes.  She would take them into the supermarket with her on her frequent trips to buy dog sausage and other treats for her precious fur-kids.  However, this is not permitted, so she leaves them in the car, with the window open so they don’t overheat, of course.  As she leaves, the furry tribe breaks into a volley of barking caused by separation anxiety.  When she is doing her shopping, further barking breaks out every time anyone walks within 10 metres of the car.  Little noses with sharp little teeth will appear in the gap at the top of the window as her smallest dog (the one that has the Napoleon complex) tries to defend the vehicle with everything in his tiny little body. The car can be seen wobbling as the dogs rush to and fro for a better vantage spot for barking at passers-by.  The dogs go berserk when Carrie comes back, increasing the amount of barking and wobbling.

The advantage of Canine Carrie is that her dogs provide you with entertainment while you wait for Learner Larry to finish manoeuvring.

#8 Trailer Trevor

Trailer Trevor is a hard-working contractor who just needs to pick up supplies from the hardware store or grab a few groceries for the wife on the way home from a job (might as well make use of the fact that the run to and from work all goes in the log book as a work trip even if you grab the shopping on the way).  However, he’s got his trailer hitched to the Nissan Navara.  He’d like to find a pair of parking spaces nose to nose that will let him park with the minimum of nuisance; he really would.  However, such parks are not available, forcing him to take up a long line of parking spaces as he parks sideways.

Any additions to this list are most welcome.  Or not welcome, as the case may be.

Safe and happy driving,

Megan (self-confessed Wonky Wilma)

Private Fleet Car Review: 2016 Hyundai Sonata Active.

Hyundai started with names, for some cars they went to numbering but the swing is back to names. The Sonata became the i45 and is back to Sonata. 2016 Hyundai Sonata ActiveIn the three model range, A Wheel Thing kicks of a back to back test with the entry level model, the Active.

Utterly uncomplicated: a 2.4L engine, with 231 Nm at 4000 rpm and 138 kW at 6000 revs. Transmission is a six speed auto. Fuel economy finished at 7.1L per 100 km after some 630 km. Hyundai quote an excessive 12.1L for urban, a more reasonable 6.3L for highway and 8.3L per 100 km on a combined cycle. Tank size is a not inconsiderable 70L.2016 Hyundai Sonata Active engine

The Suit.
The main design difference is at the front. In profile it’s almost identical, down to a chromed strip in the upper fenders, but by giving the Sonata a different headlight/grille/bumper treatment (plus some well integrated LED driving lights) and a mild work over of the tail lights, it’s enough to differentiate between the two. Rolling stock was 17 inch alloys, with 215/55 Nexen rubber. Dry weight is a decent 1500 kilograms.2016 Hyundai Sonata Active front

The aforementioned profile also hints at an almost coupe’ look, with a sloping roof line, front and rear, running an angle from above the B pillar to terminate almost at the boot lid in one smooth curve. It’s a swoopy, aerodynamic look and is pleasingly well proportioned to the eye.2016 Hyundai Sonata Active rear

It’s a good size at 4855 mm long, with width and height 1865 and 1475 mm respectively. With a 2.8 metre wheelbase, it offers plenty of interior legroom as well. Coated in a pearlescent white didn’t hurt, either, making the Sonata look bigger.

On The Inside.
The inside is comfortable but, much like Goldilocks’ porridge, isn’t great nor is it terrible. It’s just right in an unspectacular sort of way. There’s cloth seating, good ergonomics, switchgear is clear to read and nicely laid out however it’s bland, dull, uninspiring. There’s two information screens; a monochrome one for the driver and a 4.3 inch main screen in its own housing in the upper console.2016 Hyundai Sonata Active dash

There’s nothing offensive about the cabin….but there is nothing that reaches out and catches the eye to say “Buy Me!!!” either. The seats have good but not great bolstering, the dash is functional but not overly impressive, the dash console is well laid out but dull to the eye….you get the picture. The steering wheel has a good feel and echoes the design of the grille.

2016 Hyundai Sonata Active rear seats
In the centre console between passengers lies a button that activates a driving mode, with a choice of Normal, Sports or Eco. Effectively it changes the shift points of the auto; A Wheel thing left it in Normal.2016 Hyundai Sonata Active front seats

There is, however, a couple of redeemers; the steering column is adjustable not just for rake (up and down), but, unusually, for reach (in and out) as well. With a reasonable amount of fore/aft adjustment for the driver’s seat, it does allow for almost any sized driver to create a comfortable position. Then there’s the blue backlighting for the buttons on the tiller, it’s classy, effective and not overpowering. Starting procedure is “old style” key operated.

There’s Euro style indicating, with a soft touch position for three to five flashes, before clicking through to the normal operating position. Auto headlights are standard, as well, 2 12 volt sockets in the front centre console and one for the rear, airbags for driver and passenger head and thorax, along with curtain airbags.2016 Hyundai Sonata Active wheel

Cargo space in the rear is 462L with the seats up, naturally there’s plenty of bottle and cup holders distributed throughout the cabin. The sound system is of a decent quality, with a solid bass without booming and enough range to not have the ears struggling to pick up up notes.

On The Road.
Goldilocks strikes here as well; the engine delivers the goods but needs to be pressed to do so. Under light acceleration the engine sometimes feels as if it struggles, although the gearbox shifts smoothly enough. It’s the comparative dearth of torque and that 231 Newton metres comes in at 4000 revs, somewhat above the normal rev point under light acceleration, meaning the engine is working less efficiently to do the same work.

Under way, it’s the similar situation, just delivered differently, in that the revs are in play at around 2000 rpm and to extract anything in regards to overtaking, a bit of a heavy right slipper is called upon. A bit, that is. The computer is pretty savvy in that a more judicious use of the go pedal seems to be more effective than an outright slam dunk of the right foot. Sounds odd, but it works, in that a more leisurely approach seemed more effective.

The ride felt a touch soft and wallowy yet that was more down to the tyres than the Australianised suspension. That is well tuned with shockers and springs well matched to flatten the ride, absorb bumps, have the car flat and level and not pogo over certain irregular road sections.

Of concern, however, are the brakes. They’re ineffective without a decent shove on the pedal. There’s no response for the initial part of travel, soft for most of the first part of the upper travel and leave the car careering towards anything in front of it without the brakes worrying they’re really being called upon. There’s a distinctive lack of bite until the pedal has sunk over a third of the way down and no real feel of progression either.

Steering is responsive, driven by the engine rather than electrically assisted; it’s well balanced and weighted, with a turn setup of just 2.8 (rounded up) rotations from full lock to full lock. It does feel a touch light at lower speeds but feels as if it’s increasing in weight as speed increases.

The Wrap.
The 2016 Hyundai Sonata Active is the automotive equivalent of Goldilocks and her porridge, with that porridge in a plain white bowl… It’s not too hot, it’s not too cold….it’s just right, but unspectacularly so. It does the job without fuss and without any real appeal. The end economy result, however, was a pleasant surprise, coming in at under Hyundai’s quoted figure for combined driving. That urban figure, though…

Hyundai offers a new car buyer this warranty: five years with unlimited kilometres covered, plus you can take advantage of their 10 years worth of roadside assistance and Hyundai’s Lifetime Service Guarantee (see the website for T’s and C’s.) Should you buy an Elite or Premium, there’s three years of updates to the navigation system.

For details:

The Car: 2016 Hyundai Sonata Active.
Engine: 2.4L gasoline direct injection.
Fuel: 91 RON.
Tank: 70L.
Economy (quoted): Urban, Highway, Combined L per 100 km, 12.1/6.3/8.3.
Dimensions: L x W x H (in mm) 4855 x 1865 x 1475.
Weight: 1500 kg (dry)
Wheel/Tyre: 215 x 55 x 17, alloy wheel with Nexen rubber.
Warranty: 5 years, unlimited km warranty.

Ancient Resurrection: The Masters Historic Festival at Brands Hatch

Image Credit:

Image Credit:

“A demon of the ancient world. This foe is beyond any of you.”

There are whispers in the dark. Mutterings of a nameless fear once thought long departed from this world. This is the deep breath before the storm. The serenity that dominates our modern world will be broken; shattered as the true power of the past unleashes its voracious fury. On this bank holiday, the Kentish countryside will explode in an illustrious majesty unmatched by anything from the modern world. This is the Masters Historic Festival at Brands Hatch. And Stopwatch as ever is here for all your hospitality needs and more!

This bank holiday weekend, prepare to relive the shining glory of the motorsport past as once again the Masters Historic Festival returns to Brands Hatch. And this year it is better than ever. If I asked you to name some of the great race series from the past, chances are that most of these will be racing this weekend. This is not just historic racing, this is a celebration and resurrection of our racing past in a weekend long festival that will stun, amaze and leave you wanting more.

Making their monstrous return to the undulating Kentish countryside is the FIA Masters Historic Formula One championship, proving exactly what F1 racing should be in all its rapturous, thunderous and almighty glory. No one is saying that the modern championship has a lot to learn from these beastly machines of old, but the vicious combination of speed, power and ungodly noise puts the aggravated bees of the modern day to shame. With machines from the 60s, 70s and 80s including Williams, Tyrell, Lotus and Arrows to name but a few, the golden age of Formula One racing will roar back into life in spectacular fashion.

These titanic time travellers would not be complete without a touring car renaissance, in the form of the Super Touring Championship. In a monster grid of nearly 30 cars, machines from arguably the greatest era of BTCC racing will come together to take on Brands Hatch. The Super Touring era truly defined what it was that makes tin top racing so special. In a time of excess and glamour, the BTCC attracted big manufacturers, big budgets and big names. The 90s may well be over, but the iconic machines remain, ready to reignite the meteoric fires of battle once again. From Nissan Primeras to Honda Accords to Ford Sierra Cosworths, this is not to be missed.

Photo taken from:

Photo taken from:

If that was not enough to whet your appetite, the FIA Masters Historic Sports Car championship will be pitting classic endurance cars against each other, bringing back the spirit of Le Mans from days gone by. Nothing quite beats the sight and sound of a Ford GT40 on the pit straight at Brands Hatch; truly electrifying. And on top of all that, various support series with classic sports, touring and single-seater machines make this a weekend of racing you do not want to miss.

The weekend is not just about the racing, a host of demonstrations and displays will transform Brands Hatch into the perfect Bank Holiday festival. Do not miss your chance to see classic F1 cars from the late 80s and 90s both on track and up close, while feasting your eyes on car displays including Aston Martin, Ferrari and Lancia among many others.

With such a biblically impressive weekend ahead, you deserve to enjoy the action in style. And there is no better place for that than Stopwatch Hospitality. For the small price of £45 per person, guests will be treated to an unrivalled behind the scenes hospitality experience, including multimedia access to live timing, twitter and video feed, complimentary tea and coffee, cash bar and a spectacular view of the circuit. But most importantly, word has reached our ears that BTCC legend John Cleland has agreed to give us a pit tour, sign autographs and take part in a Q&A session for guests. Cleland is celebrating a staggering 20 years since his most famous championship glory in the BTCC. Now that is not something you hear every day now is it?

On this glorious Bank Holiday weekend, its time to let loose the demons of the ancient world. This is the Masters Historic Festival at Brands Hatch. This is Stopwatch Hospitality.

See you there!

Race Day Tickets: £45 per person (Half Price for Ages 12 and under)

–          Includes Circuit Entry and All-day Suite Access

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Private Fleet Car Review: Volvo S60 D4 Luxury.

Slinky. Sexy. Good looking. Curvaceous. Words once used to describe the better half of Abba are now used to describe Volvo cars. The D4 S60 stands tall in this list and A Wheel Thing gets reacquainted with the good looking Swede.2015 Volvo S60 D4 Luxury profilePowersource.
It’s a fuel efficient (4.2L/100 km, from a 67.5L tank) 2.0L diesel, with 133 kW (4250 rpm) and a torque figure that helps the acceleration (7.4 seconds to 100 km/h) of 400 Newton metres. What’s important about this is where it’s delivered: from 1750 to 2500 rpm. This gives almost unrivalled flexibility, safe overtaking and off the line, head snapping, acceleration. A 1614 kg dry weight helps, too…2015 Volvo S60 D4 Luxury engine

Bolted behind (or, in the case of a transversely mounted engine, next to), the engine is an impressive eight speed auto.
It’s smooth, slick, virtually imperceptible in its shifts although there was some noticeable vibration at low revs. Naturally there’s a paddle shifter setup inside but the tractability of the diesel really negates the need for it to be used.

Volvo tag their engines with a “Drive-E” nomenclature; effectively it’s a shorthand way of saying it’s gearing towards economic usage, where possible and is backed, technologically, by Stop/Start (turns the engine off when the car has been brought to a rest and the brake sensor reads that) as an example. But it goes further than that, it’s a philosophy that embraces the whole car: better fuel economy, less emissions, recyclable materials and more.

The Suit.
Long nose, short tail, slinky looks in a teardrop style. Swiveling headlights at the front, boomerang neons at the rear bookend a svelte, lithe figure.2015 Volvo S60 D4 Luxury front
There’s folding wing mirrors, puddle lamps, grippy (very grippy!) Continental types, some tidy alloys inside, LED driving lights, exhausts buried neatly inside two chromed exits and not a hint of the boxiness Volvo was famed for. It’s not utterly beautiful but there’s more than enough appeal in its curvaceousness to catch the eye.2015 Volvo S60 D4 Luxury rear

The Inside.
It’s here that the S60 starts to show its age; touchscreens are de riguer nowadays and the S60, being a little older than some, misses out. Volvo have released the XC90 (coming to Australia soon) with a touchscreen setup and there’s little doubt this will point the way for future Volvo machines.2015 Volvo S60 D4 Luxury dash

The centre console has long been a “dislike” for A Wheel Thing; it’s messy, busy, requires more time than is safe to figure out which button to push and a touchscreen will go a long way to alleviating this. There is a colour screen in the swoopy dash, which will show all of the info selected via the jog dials in the vertical, floating centre section.

Audio is available via a well matched speaker set, plus Bluetooth streaming, USB and Auxiliary inputs; stored stations can be accessed via the phone keypad but the interface is still not intuitive. There’s voice control for the navigation as well, with th lot coming under the umbrella name of Sensus.

The seats are well padded, comfortable to a tee and supportive just where they need to be. Being heated ($375 option) helped during a cold snap in Sydney, warming the body whilst a light drizzle of warm air directed towards the footwells kept the tootsies toasty. Of all of the buttons on the console, the aircon ones seem to be the least “lost”, which is a boon on a cold day. There’s also aircon vents mounted vertically in the B pillars to feed the rear seat passengers.2015 Volvo S60 D4 Luxury rear air ventsThe dash is the one Volvo owners know and love; a multi faceted display, with a customisable look via a push switch and jogdial on the left hand indicator, which allows a choice of information screens as well. It’s relatively simple and offers the driver a chance to personalise the look. There’s memory seating positions, plenty of room in the back for most passengers, 60/40 split fold rear seats that lead to a reasonable (339L)cargo space (and non full sized spare).2015 Volvo S60 D4 Luxury rear seats

The steering wheel has a good, chunky, heft to it, plus is home to a number of buttons for audio, cruise and is mounted on a metallic V. Naturally there’s paddles behind the tiller for those that choose manual shifts.2015 Volvo S60 D4 Luxury front seats

Being a Volvo, there’s safety acronyms aplenty: ABS, HBA (Hydraulic Brake Assist), EBA (Emergency Brake Assist) which also activate the Emergency Brake Light system (flashes hazards under emergency braking), DSTC (Dynamic Stability and Traction Control), SIPS (Side Impact Protection System) and more. Bottom line: it’s a Volvo. You’ll be safe.

On The Road.
The console may be a bit tired, but the road manners of the S60 are anything but. That diesel engine is the highlight of the S60’s road ability; 400 torques in that rev range provide unsullied usable acceleration and overtaking, with a seamless, linear surge once the torque comes on song.
It’s not without a flaw, being the typical “should I, can I?” of turbos once they’re off boost and the D4 is no stranger to that. It was most noticeable in slow freeway traffic, when it was under 1500 revs; a stand on the loud pedal, a second’s hesitation, a deep gulp of air before the Continentals hooked up and grabbed bitumen.

Handling is as cool and precise as you’d expect a car from Sweden to be; point, shoot, go. The steering loads up nicely on either side of centre, responds to a gentle touch and really only says torque steer when the S60 is powering up through the ratios.2015 Volvo S60 D4 Luxury wheel

The ride quality is sublime; the aforementioned Continentals hang on, yet also dial out a lot of the minor bumps and ripples on the roads. The suspension rarely felt unsettled and lent a strong feeling of confidence and control across a variety of road surfaces, from tarmac to bush dirt. The brakes were sensibly weighted, with only a bit of travel before a progressive pedal activated a well modulated system.

It’s wonderfully fuel economic too, with an overall average of 5.6L/100 km after a week and still three bars of an eight bar tank display showing. Distance covered? Call it 790 kilometres…2015 Volvo S60 D4 Luxury fuel

The Wrap.
The S60 started at a tick under $62K; with options fitted such as Blind Spot Information Service (BLIS) with Cross Traffic Alert, a Driver Alert System (Lane Departure Warning, Lane Keeping Aid, Active High Beam Control, Forward Collision warning and more), it topped out at $69015.
Is it worth it?
Where do I sign?

Head to for info on the fabulous range and including the forthcoming XC90. For service details and costs, contact your local Volvo dealer.

For A Wheel Thing TV, thanks to Private Fleet:

The Car: Volvo S60 D4 Luxury.
Engine: Transversely mounted, four cylinder, 2.0L.
Fuel: Diesel.
Tank: 67.5L
Transmission: eight speed automatic.
Power/Torque: 131 kW/400 Nm @ 4250/1750-2500 rpm.
Weight: 1614 kg.
Economy: (combined, claimed) 4.2L/100 km.
Dimensions: (L x W x H in mm) 4635 x 1865 x 1484.
Warranty: three years, unlimited kilometres.
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Road Surfaces Over The Millennia

If I were a better artist, I’d love to create a wordless book tracing the development of a road across from a single game trail to a modern superhighway. History is pretty fascinating, so let’s take a look at how road surfaces have changed over the millennia. I’ll just stick to road surfaces, as including the wheres and whys of roading would make this article far too long to read in one sitting.

If you’ve ever seen a house where they park on the grass during winter, you soon see why. All that pressure and squelching soon becomes deep, thick mud, where wheels get bogged. Shortly after the wheel was invented (around 5000 BC), road surfacing followed shortly afterwards.

Roman road still in use in Jebel, Syria.

Roman road still in use in Jebel, Syria.

The earliest form of road surfacing was just plain brick, and examples can still be seen today in the Indus Valley.  However, paving stones proved to be superior – they could just be cut out of rock and dropped into place, rather than baked like bricks. What’s more, rain and grit didn’t wear stone away like it did brick.

The Romans were the first ones to do more than just chuck stones down on top of the surface of a dirt track. They figured out that if you put down a good base layer, all the rain would drain away more easily, so you didn’t get problems with rutting and potholing as often.  The Romans invented basecourse and subbase, and these techniques are still in use today.

At the bottom of a Roman road, the earth was levelled off at a fair depth down and rammed. After this, a layer of large stones the size of a hand was put down. Next came a layer of concrete (yes, the Romans invented concrete). After that, a layer of very fine gravel. On the very top came flagstones, and they were laid so the middle of the road was higher than the sides, rather like the shell of a tortoise, for better drainage.  Not all roads in Roman times got the full treatment, but the most important ones did – the key ones for trade and military manoeuvres.  Other rather familiar things found on a proper Roman road were milestones and pavements (sidewalks).

The Romans also introduced the idea of roading standards – they had a set of measurements that had to be stuck to for all roads, as least as much as possible, complete with different measurements for straight bits and for curved bits.

Legionaries building a Roman Road.

Legionaries building a Roman Road. “Metopa Columna lui Traian Constructie drum”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

Tar did get used to seal roads during Classical times. This mostly happened in the oil-rich Middle East. Back then, tar was the only thing an oil well was good for.  But the idea of combining the Roman method of construction with the waterproofing of tar didn’t come for nearly 2000 years later. From 500 BC to about 1800 AD, it was cobblestones all the way.  It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that a new method was discovered… ironically, it was about the same time that better suspension systems in the form of leaf springs put in an appearance.

The breakthrough was invented by the Scotsman John MacAdam, although some credit does have to go to a couple of other civil engineers of the time, Pierre-Marie-Jérôme Trésaguet and Thomas Telford.  These three engineers had the goal of making good roads cheaply. Needless to say, it was hard work making cobblestones that fitted nicely into roads to give it a good smooth finish.  Cobblestones, after all, had to be cut by hand by a skilled bloke with a hammer and chisel.

Macadam did two things. Firstly, he did away with the club sandwich of layers that the Romans used, although a plain sandwich of basecourse and subbase still gets used today. Secondly, he found out that a good layer of gravel pushed into the right shape allowed for good drainage and was a lot smoother than cobblestones – and could be bashed into shape by a machine or by a road gang (possibly of convicts) in large quantities. Your typical back-country gravel road is what a Macadam road looked like.

Macadam’s roads had one problem, even though they drained pretty well and gave a comfier ride. They kicked up heaps and heaps of dust, especially once motorized transport became really popular thanks to the manufacturing efforts of Ford and others.  A solution was found pretty quickly: tar, which had the added advantage of being waterproof. This was known as “tarred Macadam”. This method involved two coats of tar or bitumen: one on the subgrade before the macadam gravel, then a top layer to seal it all in. You can still see this method used on a lot of country roads.

Then came Edgar Hooley, who had the bright idea of mixing the aggregate (the finely crushed gravel) with the tar before putting it on the road.  This was then flattened into place by a steamroller (which really did run on steam) and was super smooth as well as waterproof.  He patented his method under the name “tarmac” (short for “tarred Macadam”, although we also call it after the form of tar mixed with the aggregate: bitumen or asphalt.

Modern asphalt/bitument/tarmac.

Modern asphalt/bitument/tarmac.

Naturally, the development of road surfaces is still going on today. Slipping, cracking and rutting still happen. Who knows what they’ll think of next?

Safe and happy driving, whether your wheels are on gravel, cobbles or tarmac,


Private Fleet Car Review: 2016 Subaru Outback Diesel.

A Wheel Thing greatly appreciates the support that Subaru Australia has offered since mid 2012. As an independent reviewer, A Wheel Thing survives on that support, so when a company offers up two new examples of their much respected Outback, to do a back to back review, that support is deeply appreciated.2016 Subaru Outback diesel profile 2

As the vehicles are almost identical, this review will focus on the main difference (the engine) and the minor accompanying differences. For the overview, please click:
The diesel tested was the entry level, non Premium version.

It’s Subaru’s 2.0L diesel and a noisy one at that, connected to their Lineartronic CVT. Power is 110 kW at 3600 revs, torque is the same as the 3.6L petrol, at 350 Nm. Delivery of that torque, however, is between 1600 and 2800 rpm. There is a manual available; Subaru quotes 9.7 seconds to reach 100 km/h with that and just 0.2 seconds slower for the CVT.2016 Subaru Outback diesel engine 2

Subaru quotes 5.7L per 100 kilometres covered on a combined cycle, from the 60 litre tank, with highway and urban as 5.0L/100 km and 6.9L/100 km. A Wheel Thing finished with 6.4L per 100 km, with an expected range of 340 km after covering 602 km. Theoretically, once could make it from Sydney to Melbourne, via the Hume, on a full tank with a little to spare.

The consumption is aided by the diesel’s seven ratio CVT (preprogrammed shift points), with a final drive ratio of 4.111 to 1. The CVT is, in A Wheel Thing’s opinion, its sole flaw, in a driving sense.

On The Inside.2016 Subaru Outback diesel no Eyesight
The interior in the diesel is virtually identical to the 3.6L tested. Of note is the lack of the award winning Eyesight radar system and the tabs for Subaru’s iDrive system are missing from the steering wheel. Yes, you do get a sunroof.2016 Subaru Outback diesel dash 2

The Suit.
The exterior is almost identical, except for a minor trim change for the polycarbonate on the flanks, being all black and not highlighted with a chrome flashing. Otherwise, the diesel is indistinguishable for non “trainspotters”, the only other difference being 17 inch alloys and 65 profile tyres (from Yokohama, not Bridgestone), instead of 60’s on 18’s. Wheel design is identical.2016 Subaru Outback diesel

The design strong point of the Liberty sedan and Outback wagon is the wide opening doors, to almost 90 degrees to the bodywork. This makes for exceptionally easy entry and exit, plus loading into the back seat as well.

On The Road.
Ride quality is seats of the pants different to the 3.6L with its 18 inch wheels and 60 profile rubber. There’s a hint more….liveability, in that the ride itself feels just that little more compliant without losing the tautness in the suspension.2016 Subaru Outback diesel dash

Taken on a good Mother’s Day drive to a well known spot in the far north west of Sydney, Wiseman’s Ferry, with the composite of urban, rural driving on a varying mix of road surfaces, along with straights, corners, off camber curves and tightening radius turns, there was never any sensation of feeling undeterred or unsettled.

Again, however, the brake pedal felt “long” constantly, with, for A Wheel Thing’s peace of mind, too much free travel at the top before the brakes felt as if they “bit”. With some blind turns needing some good braking due to traffic ahead doing the same thing, the brakes were the part that lacked confidence.

The steering never felt as if it wasn’t communicating with the driver; the 3.6L talked a lot but the diesel Outback seemed, oddly enough, more an extension of the driver’s arms, with point and shoot directionally becoming virtually instinctive. Although a slightly bigger turning circle than the newly released 2016 Outlander, it never gave anything other than an impression of being tied down.

The CVT, when mated to the right engine, can be a great way of taking engine power and torque and transferring that to the road. The CVT with the diesel gave a very strong impression, under acceleration, both light and not so, of a slipping clutch for a manual gearbox. It rarely felt as if all of those torques were being sent to the ground yet seemed to rarely trouble ONCE the Outback was under way. It simply lacked that sensation of the lonnnnnnnnnng seamless wave of acceleration diesels and autos should have.

The revs for speed, when under way, were a good match for the torque delivery, with freeway speed seeing the tacho sitting just under where maximum torque was delivered, meaning overtaking and mid range acceleration were safe enough. Oddly, however, was the occasional transmission of torque steer, with those moments quickly passing as either the engine came off boost or the electronics intervened.

Off boost, the engine is, like most diesels, unwilling to do much in the name of performance and with the CVT there were times when a more rapid response was not just needed but badly needed. There’s still also a delay between Reverse to Drive, not a good thing when reversing onto a road and a speeding driver suddenly appears.

The Wrap.
Subaru have done a sensational job with the Outback range, it would seem, especially with the sales numbers so far. The diesel is, certainly, a much more economic proposition to drive and, again, a seats of the pants feel says a touch better ride overall. 2016 Subaru Outback diesel fuel economyThere’s a great level of trim available, although the lack of the Eyesight system could be seen as a retrograde step. However, that then should involve the driver to drive, not be a passenger…

Subaru’s pricing calculator says the driveaway price will be around the $39K to $40K mark, depending on suburb. That puts the diesel Outback well into the reach of most people. A Wheel Thing would like to sample the manual (A Wheel Thing’s preferred gearbox!) to see if the drag of the CVT, the flat spot of the driving, disappears or if it’s a characteristic of the engine in regards to the feeling of running through mud at low revs but accelerating.

For specific information on the Outback range, go here:

BTCC 2015: Ascendancy and Tainted Supremacy at Thruxton


Almost a year ago now while writing my review of the 2014 BTCC round at Thruxton, I chose to go with the headline, “Honda Dominates at Thruxton Thriller”. Going into the weekend, my biggest concern was that I would have to run the same line. The Honda domination may have been apparent at Thruxton for the last four years, alas in 2015 their supremacy was not set to continue. But in this weekend filled with drama of the highest order, a new power is rising. Are we witnessing the rise of a new champion?

The British Touring Car Championship is in itself daunting enough for any brave soul to undertake, let alone when it includes the fastest circuit in the UK. A tweet posted by WSR driver Sam Tordoff perfectly encapsulates the experience of Thruxton for a driver:

“Back at @thruxtonracing for @DunlopBTCC today where skill is swapped for balls”

I could very easily dedicate an entire post to the circuit itself, with its potent mix of high speed corners and tricky chicanes. All the tracks on the BTCC calendar are not for the faint hearted, but it is at Thruxton that the brave come forward from the herd. To conquer Thruxton is to conquer your own consciousness; your logical mind would tell you to lift, but those who lift are those who lose. You must separate yourself from your conscious self, tap into the primal animalism and unleash the beast within you.

As the race weekend arrived, Honda were a sure fire bet for top honours across the board. But as qualifying rolled around everyone was in for a shock when Irishman Aron Smith grabbed a sensational pole in a time of 1:16.785, beating the Shedden Honda by 0.02 seconds. After qualifying, Smith admitted his delight at scoring his first pole,

“I am certainly over the moon with that. Saturday is always the hardest day of the weekend so to come out on top is brilliant”


Smith did not have the best luck – while Neal has attracted some negativity with his driving style

Sadly, Smith would not see his brilliant lap translate into a win in the first race. After being bogged down on the start, he slipped behind the two Hondas and into the grips of a certain Adam Morgan who was capitalising on his immense effort on the Saturday. The deciding moment came on lap 8 when Smith suffered a puncture at one of the fastest parts of the track, causing a buttock clenching spin. To his credit, Smith saved the car and limped back to an eventual 21st. At the top end of the field, the spoils went to the Honda duo, headed by Flash himself, followed closely by the Mercedes of Morgan. Further down the field, there were some great battles between Josh Cook, Sam Tordoff, Tom Ingram and Rob Collard scrapping for position all race long.

Gordon Shedden was delighted with not only his victory, but the performance of the Civic Type R,

“To get another win and one-two with the new Civic Type R is a fantastic feeling. I got a great start so straight away I was in some clear air, which made the all-important job of looking after the tyres quite a bit easier. By the time I was at the Complex for the first time I’d broken the tow, and from then on I could manage the pace – the car was perfect.”

The Honda domination was set to evaporate in the second race, which saw a race long battle royale between the front row men of Jason Plato and Rob Collard; Collard got the jump on Plato off the line, not that Plato let him get away with it easily. Unlike years gone by, the racing was thrilling yet clean. For the rest of the field however, the race was not so clean cut. A coming together off the line between Morgan and Priaulx saw the rest of the field scatter in avoidance. For Jeff Smith and Josh Cook especially, they found themselves acting as dynamic Dunlop advertising having collected the boards at the edge of the track. To avoid overheating, this did force them both into the pits. The Honda of Neal was not to fare too well, colliding pretty forcefully with the Team BMR machine of Smith, forcing Neal into an early retirement. The race win would eventually fall to Plato, achieving a monumental 90th career win,

“I’m getting closer to 100 wins! I don’t think I’ll be able to get them all this year, the championship is too competitive, but it’s getting closer.”

Relentless action up and down the field all weekend

Relentless action up and down the field all weekend

As the grid formed up for the final race, Adam Morgan found himself on pole alongside the determined Andy Jordan, keen to get his first win in 2015. But Morgan was untouchable; even after a safety car period following an incident with Warren Scott, Adam was set to win comfortably in his Mercedes. Further down the field, Matt Neal found himself up to his old tricks, ramming into the back of Josh Cook’s Chevrolet on the entrance to the Club chicane. But the star of the show was always going to be Morgan, who cruised home to an impressive victory ahead of Andrew Jordan and Sam Tordoff,

“It’s an incredible feeling – it was great to win at Brands but doing it on the road is another level. I’ve wanted to get a lights-to-flag victory for so long, and to do it around Thruxton is amazing”

As the lights go down on another thrilling weekend at Thruxton, Shedden leads the drivers’ standings ahead of Turkington, Neal, Plato and Jordan. However, the top six are separated by a mere 16 points, proof of the strength and success of the BTCC, thanks in no small part to the NGTC regulations. Of the big names in the title chase, it is Turkington who has in many ways impressed me the most. Throughout the year so far, Turkington has managed to remain outside the limelight, yet scores consistent finishes that has left him 2nd in the standings. This is most probably the best approach to have; consistency is the name of the game after all. There is no better way to achieve regular results than to avoid trouble.

The rise of a new challenger

The rise of a new challenger

I believe that the race weekend at Thruxton was not just another round of the championship, but a snapshot of the moment when people will say that the championship underwent an evolution. For years, it has well been known that Thruxton has been a track dominated by Honda. And yet, in 2015 Honda was only able to secure one victory across the weekend. Add to that a superior victory by Adam Morgan in the Mercedes and a picture starts to materialise of a shift in the balance of power in the series.

If we look back at the races so far, much of the focus has shifted onto the newer faces in the championship such as Moffat, Cook and Morgan. Since the start of 2015, Morgan has laid the foundations of what may well be a challenge for the championship. He lies 6th in the standings, a mere 16 points behind series leader Shedden. After four years in the championship, Morgan has become a highly competitive and quick driver and has provided a more consistent drive already this year than many of the titans of the touring cars. On top of that, Aron Smith has made his intentions clear; his drive in the final race at Donington has most definitely become one of the drives of the last few years in a single race. The standings may be challenged by the usual suspects, but I am beginning to ponder whether the tides are changing and their power is slipping.  

As the series heads off to the rolling hills of Oulton Park, the championship is moving into a new era where I highly doubt we will again see one team or driver run away with the title like in previous years. We may only be three race weekends in, but I can see the battle remaining as close fought as it currently is. If Thruxton proved anything it is that the superpowers of the past may not have retained the supremacy they once reveled in; new powers have risen to challenge the once unattainable dominance. The critics of the past have fallen silent; this is touring car racing at its very best.

This is the British Touring Car Championship.

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @lewisglynn69!

Keep Driving People!

Peace and Love!

All Images Credited To:

Private Fleet Car Review: 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander XLS.

2016 Mitsubishi Outlander XLS at KiamaMitsubishi’s medium sized SUV has grown considerably since it was released back in the mid noughties. Now looking nothing like the original donor car, the Lancer, it’s gone from a smallish, angular, almost “runt of the litter” look, (with a paltry four speed auto underneath), to a rounded off, handsome, male oriented look with its most recent update.

A Wheel Thing was bookmarked for the top of the range Exceed diesel, however a minor scheduling hiccup (ok, Mitsubishi needed it more than I did), saw a transfer into the mid range seven seater, the XLS, complete with 2.4L four cylinder petrol engine.

Normally we’d look at the engine first, however the most notable changes have been to the exterior so:

The Suit.
The changes are not insubstantial but are limited to the nose cone and tail light clusters. At the rear, the lights now spread across into the (non power operated) tail gate whilst the design has been modified slightly from before, sporting a “neon light” effect, plus a new chrome strip joins the two assemblies. 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander XLS rearThe rear bumper has also been refined, with exhaust tips now integrated into the fairing for the top model, with the XLS retaining a single right hand exhaust underneath the redesigned bumper.2016 Mitsubishi Outlander XLS rear

At the front, the bulbous and blobby look has been replaced; there’s chromework aplenty (a Japanese style change as Mitsubishi’s competitors have also gone the bright work look) contrasting with a blackout treatment between the now sharper edged headlights. The XLS sports LED driving lights around the reduced area and more angular cluster.2016 Mitsubishi Outlander XLS front

The bumper itself now has a sharper delineation horizontally, with two thickish chrome strips (rsembling a C on the left and mirror imaged on the driver’s side) bracketing a two bar grille and a centre aligned blackout. The outer edges have been reprofiled, holding onto the globelit driving lights there.
It’s more edgy and male oriented, it seems, tying in with the advertising.2016 Mitsubishi Outlander XLS 1

In profile, there’s not much else to set the 2016 model apart from its immediate predecessor, apart, perhaps, from some too subtle to be noticed sheetmetal changes, however there’s a alloy look strip added to the lower extremities of the doors. Down below, there’s some attractive alloys, 18 inch diameter with 225/55 tyres, with a full sized spare available.2016 Mitsubishi Outlander XLS wheels

It’s Mitsubishi’s well proven 2.4L petrol four cylinder, with 124 kW and 220 metres of Mr Newton’s torque, at a high-ish 4200 revs. That rev point is crucial, as we’ll discuss later. Gearbox wise, it’s a CVT, with the now almost mandatory six program points. Power is put down through all four wheels and the car has a lockable centre differential should you choose to do a bit of off roading.2016 Mitsubishi Outlander XLS engine

There’s a 60 litre tank for the donk to drink from and it’ll take almost any unleaded you can throw at it. Economy is rated by Mitsubishi as 7.2L per 100 kilometres on a combined cycle.

On The Inside.
Anyone having the 2013/14/15 model will immediately feel at home on the inside. A Mitsubishi strength has been ergonomics and there’s little to not like here. There’s the normal, chunky but not too chunky, steering wheel, the same design layout for the buttons for audio and Bluetooth, the dash with its full colour screen in between the dials and a piano black surround for the navitainment screen.2016 Mitsubishi Outlander XLS dash

That sits atop the wonderfully simple layout for the aircon controls, a long standing highlight for the Outlander. Comprised of two round rocker switches for the driver and passenger’s zone for temperature, one for the fan speed and separate buttons for the rest, it’s a delight in its simplicity and utterly useful.

Mitsubishi’s website claims the XLS (and Exceed) have DAB (digital radio), I don’t recall seeing that on the screen. Navigation usage is simple, and best done when a vehicle is stationary, as certain required fields can’t be accessed with a vehicle in motion.2016 Mitsubishi Outlander XLS front seats

There’s seven seats, five for the main intended usage and two strap operated fold up/down seats in the rear, which doubles as a cargo area. With the rear seats up, there’s a mere 128 L; down, there’s 477 L. With the middle row folded flat, that jumps to 1608 L.2016 Mitsubishi Outlander XLS cargo

Plastics are of a somewhat more refined look and feel, with a general feeling of being a little higher class than before. The seats themselves have, in the XLS, a different cloth weave, however still feeling lacking is bolstering, side support, with lateral grip applied by the weave and not the cushions.
Ignition is key operated, in the XLS, with the Exceed getting keyless start and behind the tiller are paddle shifts.

On The Road.
Two very noticeable situations with the XLS in the week it was with A Wheel Thing. The torque the 2.4L generates may be fine with a hydraulic gearbox, offering reasonable if not scintillating, performance. That’s further dulled by the CVT, with overtaking on straights requiring a lot of prior planning and hoping another vehicle wouldn’t suddenly appear coming the other way. The other was the surprising amount of lack of front end grip on damp roads.

The XLS was showcased by taking it south of Sydney to the beautiful seaside town of Kiama for a weekend. There were two trips further south to Nowra, accessed by the Pacific Highway, with some stunning views and long sweeping curves. As, at the time of review, Sydney had been inundated with constant rain, the roads were wet, to say the least. In areas where the roads were signposted at a certain speed, there was unexpected understeer, to the point that velocities were reduced to levels under what would normally have been expected. This, from all four corners being driven and all three AWD modes being selected, just in case.
The actual steering ratio feels to be between 3.5 to 4 turns, lock to lock.2016 Mitsubishi Outlander XLS at Kiama 2

On dry roads, that understeer all but disappeared, leading to speculation that the tyres weren’t in harmony with the steering under the wet circumstances. The dry weight of the car is 1535 kg, towing capacity is 1600 kg; with four aboard plus fuel let’s call it two tonnes to haul around. Peak torque at over 4000 revs just doesn’t suit the CVT and the XLS’ intended usage, I certainly don’t believe any exuberant off road work would…well, work.

Ride quality was taut, without being jolting, with just the right balance of compliance before tightening up. It’s a flat ride, for the most part, minimal body roll with dive and rear end squat under acceleration invisible. Acceleration itself, with four aboard and not really a great deal of luggage, was spartan in its appeal. Full pedal movement had the Outlander under way with a leisurely stride, with no real hurry to see the needle move around the dial. Braking, on the other hand, started with one of the best balanced and modulated pedals around, with a bite, enough to give confidence, as soon as the pedal was pushed and stayed progressive through its travel.

The Wrap.
The Outlander range certainly has the appearance of having lost weight, visually, by reducing the roundness front and rear. The sharper edges to the headlights, to the front trim and the extension of the rear lights into the tailgate give a semblance of flattening the Outlander and providing a more assertive look.

The interior is still a delight in its ergonomic usefulness, it’s certainly corfortable enough (lack of side support, not withstanding) and on dry roads grips like a limpet. The wet drive performance in corners, well….and that lacklustre engine dull down the experience too much.
Pricing will vary depending on your location and insurer, according to Mitsubishi’s online price calculator but figure on around the $40K mark driveaway. It will be interesting to finally sample the diesel but from previous experience we don’t anticipate the dearth of life the 2.4L petrol has.

Go here: for details on the 2.4L range.

The Car.
Engine: 2.4L, four cylinder.
Fuel: 90RON unleaded and above.
Power/Torque: 124 kW/220 Nm @ 6000/4200 rpm.
Transmission: Constant Variable Transmission, with six preprogrammed ratios.
Economy: 7.6L/100 km (no other figures available).
Seating: seven, two rear fold down, 60/40 split fold middle row.
Dimensions (L x W X H in mm): 4695 x 1810 x 1640.
Wheelbase/Ride Height: 2670 mm/ 190 mm (unladen).
Weight (dry): 1535 kg.
Cargo: 128L/477L/1608L depending on seating configuration.
Service/Warranty: refer to the Mitsubishi website for terms and conditions.Private Fleet Logo - widget

Off-Road Driving That’s Out Of This World

A lot of us have discovered the joys of off-road driving.  Plenty of modern vehicles come with AWD capacity so you can do a little bit of off-roading of some sort – or so you can get the extra traction that a four-paw provides. There are plenty of very desirable 4x4s out there with all sorts of this and that to help them do better in the rough stuff. But no matter how good your Nissan Pathfinder or your Skoda Yeti  is, there are some vehicles that are a lot snazzier than that.

lunarroverGood-bye Land Rover , hello Moon Rover.  The Apollo Lunar Rover must be one of the quirkiest and most famous of all the vehicles designed by General Motors (and a handful of others), although you are never, ever going to get to drive one.  Only a handful of people, all from the USA and the former USSR have driven about as far off the road as you can get, going for a wee jaunt about on the surface of the moon before the manned moon landings were scrapped.

So what’s the Lunar Rover like?

The styling of the Lunar Rover is somewhat reminiscent of an old-school farm tractor.  Keeping the weight to a minimum was in the design brief, as was the ability to fold the car up for storage (now there’s an idea we could try to apply more widely to avoid parking problems), so flash-looking body kit was out of the question. Aluminium trim was very much in evidence, however.  There was also no need for climate control – all that was provided by the space suits. You could say that it was designed for maximum visibility and the whole cabin was one big sun roof, moon roof or possibly Earth roof. It did have a seatbelt that used Velcro to overcome the problems that would occur with inertia reels and the like in one-sixth of the earth’s gravity. The Lunar Rover has seating for two, with both seats being fully foldable and with a shared armrest. The steering “wheel” is a multifunction joystick.

The Lunar Rover was a very early example of an electric vehicle, which does leave one wondering why this technology was pretty much ignored for terrestrial vehicles during the 1980s and 1990s. It was powered by a pair of 36-volt non-rechargeable batteries with a life of 121 ampere-hours each for a total range of 92 km.  The wheels were 23 inch aluminium jobs and the tyres had a chevron tread for extra traction. They weren’t your pneumatic rubber jobs, either: they had a mixture of zinc, steel and aluminium. You could call them the ultimate run-flats.

Performance-wise, the Lunar Rover is no speed freak, with a top design speed of 13 km/h. However, this speed was exceeded by Eugene Cernan of the USA, who holds the current lunar land speed record of 18 km/h.

The handling, however, is excellent.  For a start, the suspension is superb: double horizontal wishbone with upper and lower torsion bars and a damper unit between the chassis and upper wishbone.  The front and rear wheels have separate steering controls, allowing the front and rear wheels to turn in opposite directions for a tighter turning circle, although the driver can select to steer with front or rear wheels only as needed.  Each wheel had its own separate drive unit and each wheel could freewheel if needed. Ground clearance is 36 cm.

Navigation, information and communication systems are also brilliant – modern cars are only just starting to catch up with this 1970s model.  Navigation used a combination of the odometer and a directional gyro, plus a sun/shadow monitor to get the right heading. Communications involved two TV cameras, another camera (with film) and several antennae for communication with the Lunar Module. Display panels inform the driver of the current speed, heading, pitch, and power and temperature.

You can see the Lunar Rover in this clip:

The Lunar Rovers (only four were made) were used on three Apollo lunar missions and were left behind on the moon each time (have a look here to see the exact spots). However, if you’re really, really desperate to drive about as far off the road as you can get, there is still hope, but your window of opportunity is closing rather rapidly, if it’s not too late already. The volunteers for the Mars One one-way trip to Mars will get Martian Rovers to drive in as they spend the rest of their lives on the Red Planet.

I think I’ll stick to off-roading in the other half’s Nissan work ute.

Safe and happy driving,


New Wheels: What's On The Way For Australia.

Holden and Toyota have released details of what Australia can expect to see in the near future; Toyota with its rebodied and updated (for the interior) Camry whilst Holden has shown off the Euro sourced models, including the all wheel drive Insignia from Opel. Let’s take a look.2016 Toyota Camry group shot


It’s the Camry, but not as we know it. Key to the new model, which will be the final Australian built version, is a classy and assertive new look. Design hints have already been seen in the Corolla and Yaris, plus Toyota’s sports car arm, Lexus, with a familiar profile backed at either end with some knife sharp angles for tail and head light enclosures.

The profile looks almost unchanged from the outgoing model, viewed directly side on, however the tail light extends further into the rear quarter panel, not unlike a Lexus design from some years ago. The front end is more dramatic, with a sweeping design for the headlights starting from a teardrop before terminating in a blade like design.

Power from the 2.5L four is 133 kW in the Altise, with a dual exhaust system bumping it to 135 kW in the Atara range. If it’s grunt you want, it may be worth checking the Hybrids; an “Atkinson Cycle” 2.5L engine delivers 151 kW plus the electric motor adds in another 105 kWcamry 1One aspect of the front, which is sure to raise eyebrows and provoke discussion, is the whale shark mouth look the new air intake grilles have. Flanked, as they are, by forward leaning vertical LED driving lights, the sloping angles of the outermost parts may be a bit much for sensitive souls.

There’s seven models: Altise, Atara S, SX and SL, with sharper pricing, making it the cheapest  Camry for 18 years, for the American designed Camry, plus three hybrids. Locally, Toyota has sold over thirty thousand hybrids, more than the Prius range.

2015 Toyota Camry Pricing:

  • Altise petrol — $26,490 (down $4500) or $28,990 drive-away (d/a)
  • Altise hybrid — $30,490 (down $5000) or $32,990 d/a
  • Atara S petrol — $29,490 (down $4500) or $31,990 d/a
  • Atara S hybrid — $32,490 or $34,990 d/a
  • Atara SX petrol — $31,990 or $34,490 d/a
  • Atara SL petrol — $37,440 (down $2550) or $39,940 d/a
  • Atara SL hybrid — $40,440 (down $1050) or $42,90 d/a

There’s some new specs as well. The Altise cops seven airbags, a 6.1 inch touchscreen, 16 inch wheels, (hybrids then offers keyless entry and start), dual zone climate control and a full colour TFT info display for the driver. The Atara S gets 17 inch alloys, electric driver’s pew, twin exhaust and paddle shifters for the auto.Camry interior

The Atara SX gets 18 inch alloys with Bridgestone Turanza tyres, a heighted suspension and damper tune level and a more responsive steering rack. There’s leather accented seats and some body work. Finally, the Atara SL gets some tech with pre-crash and autonomous braking technology, active cruise control and lane departure alerting, plus blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic
Design wise, there’s not merely the proverbial raft of changes, there’s a container ship full, with more than 800 parts redesigned or reengineered under the watchful eye of American design studio, Calty. Only the roof has been untouched. A redesigned bonnet flows into a pronounced side crease, drawing the eyes from a more muscular front fender through the door handles before finishing over the rear lights, now fitted with LEDs.

Each variant gets their own wheels, with Altise staying on 16 inch wheels, the entry and mid range Atara getting 17’s whilst the top range Atara receives 18’s, a first for Camry.

Private Fleet’s Dave will bring you a review in late June.

Holden released details recently of the Insignia VXR, alongside the Cascada convertible and Astra GTC and VXR. Sourced from Germany’s Opel, the GTC (with GTC Sport) packs a 1.6L turbo with 125 kW/260 Nm for the auto whilst the manual Sport cops 147 kW/280 Nm. Some engineering for the front driven car’s suspension sees “a shortened spindle length and reduced kingpin inclination to prevent the torque steer so often seen in powerful front-wheel-drive cars. “
There’s sport’s oriented seats, with extra bolstering for the Sport, Holden’s MyLink entertainment system, satnav and 19 inch alloys.Astra VXR

The Astra VXR ups the ante, with a 2.0L powerhouse offering 206 kW and a monstrous 400 Newton metres of torque. To haul that in, there’s Brembo brakes up front. Also up front (and back) is Astra’s much vaunted FlexRide suspension tune, offering the discerning driver Standard, sport and VXR suspension tunes alongside engine mapping and steering changes. It’ll roll on 20 inch rims and cosset the front passengers with power bolstering in the seats alongside eight way adjustments.Cascada

The Cascada, formerly known as the Astra convertible, lobs with the 1.6L and auto, offers a folding, triple acoustic layered, roof that will close in 17 seconds whilst the car is in motion at speed up to 50 km/h and perforated leather seats for that luxury touch.

Holden quotes pricing as, excluding dealer delivery and government charges :

  • Astra GTC, manual                                                     $26,990
  • Astra GTC, automatic                                                 $29,190
  • Astra GTC Sport, manual                                           $29,990
  • Astra GTC Sport, automatic                                       $32,190
  • Astra VXR, manual                                                     $39,990
  • Cascada, automatic                                                    $41,990
  • Cascada Launch Edition, automatic                           $44,990Astra GTC Sport

The Insignia VXR

This will shape up to be a hero model for Holden; all wheel drive, 2.8L turbocharged V6, Adaptive Cruise, Auto Emergency Braking, 239 kW and 435 Nm. Heated Recaro seats, eight inch touch screen, forward collison alert, side blind spot alert, lane change alert plus the Flex Ride Suspension.

Pricing will start at $51990 plus On Road Costs.Insignia VXR